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The Trump Campaign (and Republican Party) In Context: Capitalism and Democracy, A Meditation: (Part R)

Updated on September 23, 2016
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The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.


Focus on Democracy

Well, I promised that we'd set down on our punches, on the matter of democracy (small 'd') in this installment, so there's no backing out now.

What in Sam Hill is democracy?

If I may, I will suggest a tentative, working definition for our purposes. Let us say that democracy (small 'd') is nothing more or less than civic self-determination, which may or may not include voting.

I know what you're thinking: "which may or may not include voting"? What is this nonsense you speak of?

Well, it turns out that those two things can come into tension. Let me give an example. In an essay called Education and the Structural Crisis of Capital (The U.S. Case), by sociologist John Bellamy Foster, we read:

"In nineteenth-century capitalism, workers were in a position to retain within their own ranks the knowledge of how the work was done, and therefore exercised a considerable degree of control over the labor process. Hence, control of the labor process by owners and managers was often more formal than real" (1).

  1. On the one hand, voting rights, at least nominally, are surely --- "Don't call me Shirley!" --- greater for all Americans than they were in the nineteenth-century. That is to say, we all have, nominally, more open participation in electoral democracy today, than we ever have in the past. To that extent, then, the United States is more democratic (small 'd').
  2. On the other hand --- and this is a big hand! --- the industrial working class, in the United States, seem to have had more "democratic" civic self-determination. They had it in the workplace; they had more control over their lives because they had effective self-management on the job. That is to say, they appear to have enjoyed infinitely more economic democracy than the working class of today does.

From Effective Collective Management and Self-Management to Minority Rule

And now, here comes the bad news.

Still quoting Dr. Foster:

"As corporations and their workforces and factories got bigger with the rise of monopoly capitalism, however, it became possible to extend the division of labor, and therefore to exercise greater top-down managerial control. This took the form of the new system of scientific management, or 'Taylorism,' within concentrated industry. Control of the conception of the labor process was systematically removed from the workers and monopolized by management. Henceforth, according to this managerial logic, workers were merely to execute commands from above, with their every move governed down to the smallest detail" (2).

Notice that on the one hand, an abundance of economic democracy existed for the working class. This was a period of relatively low--by today's standards--public participation in electoral democracy. But as the owners of capital asserted their private property rights, economic democracy declined and formal, public participatory, electoral democracy increased.

It is almost as if one were exchanged for the other. We'll take that old economic democracy off your hands, and give you all this voter democracy, the right to choose your representatives!

Tell me: Is it not an interesting imaginative exercise to wonder what life might be like, in the United States of America, if both economic democracy and voter participatory electoral democracy were ever to come into full bloom, simultaneously and side by side?

Question: If someone can take democratic self-determination away at will, do you really have democratic self-determination? Can you really exercise democratic self-determination in the context of a numerical class minority regime of private property?

I'll just let that question hang in the air, as we move on to something else.

Vindictive Democracy

One of the most egregious ways that democracy is misused or abused, in my opinion, is the application of the technique I call "vindictive democracy."

What is vindictive democracy?

It is the cruel application of democratic techniques to a targeted group. The democratic procedure exercised upon the targeted group begins with the assumption of victimization of the targeted group; and the "democracy" is concerned with the question of whether and to what lengths their victimization should be reduced, if at all.


A few years ago, in 2008, the state of California held a referendum on gay marriage. The question was whether it should be allowed. The opponents of same-sex marriage won the vote.

Here's my thing: Regardless of which way one voted, the exercise itself is an example of what I mean by "vindictive," indeed, cruel democracy.

Check this out!

If it is true that it is a foundational principle of the founding of this country --- that we all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is it not obvious that marriage, to whomever one chooses, is the quintessential act of the "pursuit of happiness"?

By holding this referendum, we have done two things:

  1. We have unjustly and unreasonably extracted gay and lesbian Americans from inclusion in the promise of the right to the pursuit of happiness, in the form of marriage.
  2. We have proposed to have the authority to decide whether or not this right should be given back to them.
  3. Indeed, if you think about it, there is a devastating implication embedded in the very fact of this referendum: that, somehow, gay and lesbian people are not actually "real" Americans. The referendum acts as if to decide whether or not this group of outsiders should be granted yet another "American" right.

Democratic Bullying and the Extension of Benevolence

Suppose "we" made up a gang of, say, twelve school bullies. We are the bullies of our high school.

Now suppose that "you" (whoever you may be) are the leader of the bullies. Let's say that you call an early morning meeting. You put forward a policy recommendation that has several options. You tell us that whatever the majority of us decide on by vote, is what we shall do.

Question: "Regarding all the nerds, geeks, and dorks of this school, shall we take all of the lunch money from all of them, as usual? Shall we only take all of the lunch money from half of the geeks, nerds, and dorks? Or shall we take only half of the lunch money from half of the number of geeks, nerds, and dorks today?

  • Again, the starting point is victimization: The bullies are going to relieve the school's "nerds, geeks, and dorks" of the lunch money. This work is going to be done.
  • The question is simply whether and to what extent their victimization is to be moderated.

Does that make sense?

So-called "State's Rights" as Vindictive Democracy --- as Cruel Democracy

If the federal government of the United States of America passes a law meant to improve the lot of a particular segment of the population, and the ruling class of a specific state asserts "state's rights" in direct response to said law --- then that ruling class is, in effect, turning to the intended recipient of federally-guaranteed rights and saying: We will decide if you have rights or not, and if so, to what extent!

As you know, a raft of recovery programs rolled out of Washington from the 1930-1960s (New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society), which provided a panoply of new economic and social rights to the American people. There is an informative and sobering book by Ira Katznelson, a professor of political science and history at Columbia University.

The book is called When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America (2005). This book tells the story of how Southern Congressional representatives, Southern local politicians, Southern administrators, and Southern bureaucratic government officials effectively turned to the African-American population, living in the South: We will decide whether or not you have rights (New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society) and if we do let you have them, we will decide the extent to which you can have them!

Let's just say that under the circumstances, the Southern power structure was stingy with African-Americans in releasing to them the rights of the New Deal, Fair Deal, and Great Society. The starting point, the beginning assumption of the Southern power structure, during that period, was obvious.

So obvious, I'm not even going to state it.

Thank you so much for reading! We are done!


1. Foster, J. B. (2011, July/August). Education and the Structural Crisis of Capital: The U.S. Case. Retrieved September 21, 2016, from

2. ibid


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